SINGAPORE (Apr 18): Nearly five decades have passed since Margaret River first gained a foothold on the global winemaking map. Despite it being accountable for no more than 4% of Australia’s total wine output, the region is known for producing some of the world’s best Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay blends.
Woodlands was established in 1973 by Daniel and Heather Watson as one of the region’s five pioneering vineyards, alongside household names such as Cape Mentelle and founding estate Vasse Felix. Located in the Wilyabrup Valley of Margaret River, the vineyard started off with three acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, and eventually saw the additions of Malbec, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc plantings to total of eight acres.
Today, the estate boasts two vineyards spanning a total of 26 acres and located within two kilometres of each other within the Wilyabrup Valley. These comprise the original 1973 vineyard, Woodlands Vineyard, and the newer west-facing Woodlands Brook Vineyard which was more recently established in 2001. The show is now run by Daniel and Heather’s sons, Stuart and Andrew Watson – who went on to roll out a series of Cabernet Merlots, Chardonnays, Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc Semillons under the second-generation Watson Family Vineyards label, on top of carrying on their family’s legacy through Woodlands Wines.
While Woodlands is solely distributed by La Vigne in Singapore, its wines staged a rare appearance at a private food and wine pairing lunch event on April 5, held at Ginza Rokakutei and hosted by Andrew Watson (pictured left), the younger co-owner of the Watson brothers. Over various kushiage – skewered and battered meat or vegetables, a specialty snack in Osaka, Japan – courses paired by the restaurant’s sommelier, Ludovic Petrow, Andrew enthusiastically launches into a detailed introduction for each vintage and variety of wine that is served.
To him, Wilyabrup Valley is among the most underrated regions in the winemaking world, and one that he believes should be more talked about as the home of Australia’s original vineyards such as Woodlands – which also underscores the purpose of his visit to Singapore.
The meal opens with a Watson Family Vineyard 2016 Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, which is paired with Angel prawn from New Caledonia and Aomori scallop kushiage to be dipped in Okinawan salt and shokyu, respectively.
“Wine is a combination of a lot of things. There’s flavour, there’s acidity, there is tannin. And I find that the more tannin you’ll find in the wine, the more it will need fat [to complement it]. The wines with a lot of tannin like cabernet sauvignon, they’ll go well with fatty meats like marbled beef or pork,” says Andrew.
“But a wine like this [Sauvignon Blanc Semillon], which doesn’t have as much tannin, is good for meat that’s a lot leaner. In this wine, instead of dealing with tannin you’re dealing with acidity, in particular, a high-acid wine like this is very complex to play with. Sulphur and salt tends to mask acid build-up so salt is always a good match for a high acid wine,” he continues.
Next, the warm flavours of Woodlands’ 2016 vintage Wilyabrup Valley “Chloe” Chardonnay are introduced between bites of kushiage in the forms of green pea croquette, shiitake mushroom and chicken breast & shiso leaf with Japanese mountain caviar. There are only 2,900 bottles of this extremely rare variety, says Andrew, which is made with nothing except grapes and a bit of sulphur to produce its pure yet powerful taste that straddles the balance between flavour and acidity.
2016 in particular saw an enormous amount of rain which allowed the fruit in the Woodlands “Chloe” plot, named after Andrew’s niece (i.e. his brother Stuart’s daughter), to dry rapidly under a southerly breeze. With soil taking up the rain and less water stress, brighter wines with great balance were produced. Personally, to Andrew, it also marks the year that saw not only some of his favourite vintages being produced, but also the birth of his daughter.
The following courses introduce an intermission of reds: a 2014 Margaret Cabernet Merlot Malbec, famed for its melt-in-your-mouth mellowness and paired with Sangen pork from Kagoshima, and a 2015 Margaret River Clémentine (pictured right) picked by Petrow to accompany Tokachi beef kushiage from Hokkaido.
According to Andrew, Woodlands is the first winery in Australia to name its wines after people “Clémentine is after my great-great grandmother,” he shares, referring to the vineyard’s 2015 Cabernet Merlot Petit Verdot and the 2016 Cabernet Malbec Merlot named as such. After all, Woodlands’ founders had christened their pioneering 1981 Cabernet Sauvignon “Andrew”. It went on to win trophies at wine shows at Mount Barker, Perth and Canberra by the end of 1982.
The final course ends with a hearty salmon and roe rice bowl served ochazuke style in warm dashi. This comes alongside a glass of 2014 Woodlands “Matthew” Cabernet Sauvignon named after Andrew’s nephew.
At this point, the smooth, fresh and light aftertaste of the earlier 2016 “Chloe” Chardonnay I sampled still lingers on my mind, and I enquire about the possibility of purchasing a bottle to enjoy on my own. But to my disappointment, Andrew informs us that due to its limited production and being a crowd favourite, even he is facing the problem of being severely understocked in this wine, and it is unlikely that it will be available for purchase in Singapore, even via La Vigne.
Neither does Ginza Rokukakutei presently carry Woodlands’ products in its wine list. That might be, however, a possibility sometime in the near future, says Andrew, casting a hopeful smile at Petrow from across the bar.
For now, the Woodlands wine and kushiage experience will have to remain a fond memory of a rare paired meal that money cannot buy, but one I would like to revisit whenever the opportunity should arise.
For more information about Le Vigne, Woodlands Wines and Ginza Rokukakutei, visit: